University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate student Rory Wheat in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) is conducting a research project focused to help identify how industry partners can work together with Canadian communities to shift to using bioenergy.

The project aims to collect first-hand insights from the bioenergy industry about the challenges and opportunities in this renewable energy system.

“I’ve always had a passion for the energy industry and how it will change and adapt as Canada and the world focus on climate resiliency,” said Wheat, who is pursuing a Master of Sustainability: Energy Security at SENS.

Biomass energy systems use many natural elements to produce energy, such as trees that are not suitable for lumber, harvest residues, and trees and plants that are killed by wildfires or disease. Certain quick-growth crops are also being explored as potential sources of biomass, as they take three to 15 years to fully grow as opposed to a tree that can take 40 to 100 years to mature. Land unsuitable for agriculture is being explored as a potential place to grow these crops.

To integrate bioenergy systems into current energy production practices, biomass must be affordable and cause minimal environmental impact.

Wheat stresses that bioenergy systems can bring many benefits to Canadians, particularly in northern and remote communities. These include consistent access to clean energy sources, the ability to control one’s own energy sources, improved forestry management, and increased employment opportunities.

He plans to interview industry, government and community leaders to identify gaps and barriers to implementing bioenergy systems.

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“Key factors that have been identified include lack of communication and connection between the existing forestry industry and the emerging bioenergy sector, lack of education and training programming for bioenergy systems, and not enough policy incentives for transitioning from diesel fuel systems to bioenergy,” said Wheat.

He hopes the project will help to accelerate the adoption of the bioenergy industry across Canada. Adopting this clean energy option could lead to the development of a carbon-neutral heating system for use in northern or remote communities, where sustainable crops and an established partnership with the forestry industry could introduce new levels of energy autonomy for residents.

“This [project] might lead to more informed conversations around bioenergy in Canada, as well as indicate where public and private investment can make the largest impact to promote industry growth,” Wheat said.

Following the interview phase, Wheat plans to submit his results to an academic journal for publishing. The work will be supervised by SENS professor Dr. Greg Poelzer (PhD).

The project has been funded and supported through the USask Community Appropriate Sustainable Energy Security (CASES) research initiative, an international project involving 15 northern and Indigenous communities and public and private sector project partners from Canada, Alaska, Sweden, and Norway.

This article first ran as part of the 2022 Young Innovators series, an initiative of the USask Research Profile and Impact office in partnership with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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